Continuing the Peace and Planet Momentum!

May 7, 2015


As the NPT Review Conference continues in New York, Peace Action and our allies continue to monitor the debates and proposals by participating governments (the Reaching Critical Will project of the 100 year old Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom is a good resource on NPT happenings), but we are also looking to future collaborations under the Peace and Planet banner to connect peace and nuclear disarmament issues to economic, racial and climate justice concerns.

Here is an early proposal for future work, and also a report on our events. Comments welcome as always.

May 1, 2015


This is a hastily written proposal urging that the 2015 Abolition 2000 Annual General Meeting authorize the creation/continuation of a Peace & Planet Campaign as a project of Abolition 2000. As described below, the international planning group for the 2015 NPT Review, initiated at the 2014 A-2000 annual general meeting fulfilled its mandate, in the course of which it took important steps in building a more issue-integrated international movement, created expectations, and forged relationships which can be the foundation for longer-term movement building for nuclear weapons abolition and related issues. As the press has reported, “Peace and Planet showed the commitment of international civil society to peace and disarmament, as thousands of people from around the world gathered in New York on the eve of the NPT RevCon,”

The 2014 Mandate

The 2014 A-2000 annual general meeting charged co-conveners Joseph Gerson (AFSC,) Jackie Cabasso (WSLF, UFPJ & Mayors for Peace,) and Judith LeBlanc (Peace Action) who was later replaced by Kevin Martin of Peace Action to- based on criteria established at the A-2000 AGM – create an international coordinating committee to implement the following

a. Organizing an inclusive* international Nuclear Weapons Abolition conference on the eve of the Review Conference

b. Organizing an inclusive mass rally and march on the eve of the Review Conference to demand nuclear weapons abolition, peace and justice – including reducing military spending and the funding of essential human needs

c. Organizing an inclusive peace festival at the conclusion of the rally and march

d. Facilitating organizing by the rising generation of young nuclear abolitionists

e. Facilitating delivery of millions of Japanese petition signatures urging negotiations without delay for a nuclear weapons abolition convention

f. Facilitating the organization of an international interfaith service on the eve of the Review Conference

g. Facilitating the visits of Hibakusha and international peace activists to communities in the United States to encourage nuclear weapons abolition organizing.

h. Explore addition nonviolent actions, bold and otherwise, that can reinforce our demand for nuclear disarmament

i. Engage the climate change and other movements, and make outreach to the rising generation of activists a priority.

Summary of Implementation

1 . An International Planning Group comprise of representatives from 11 international organizations and 42 organizations based in 12 countries was created. Efforts were made to create a diverse planning group. It issued our Call to Action on Step. 26, 2014, the first International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons urging the 2015 NPT Review Conference to mandate the

commencement of the “good faith” negotiations required by Article VI of the NPT. Recognizing the need overcome the siloing of our and other movements in order to build more issue integrated movement the Call urged “all people who hope to build a fair, democratic, ecologically sustainable and peaceful future to join us. A petition based on the Call to Action was developed (used mainly by groups in the US,)

Numerous in person and conference call meetings of the International Planning Group’s coordinating and advisory committees, subcommittees and working groups were held to plan what became the Peace & Planet Mobilization. Short-term staff were hired by AFSC, UFPJ and Peace Action to help implement the mobilization.

2. A unique dimension of the Peace & Planet mobilization was its engagement with related peace, economic and social justice and environmental movements. To greater and lesser degrees they were represented on the coordinating and advisory committees, gave input into the shape and content of our events, held Peace & Planet events of their own and assisted in outreach and implementation. While the depth of these new relationships should not be overstated, they do provide an additional new foundation for our organizing and campaigning. With care and reciprocity, they can be built on for the longer-term.

3. Early on, both to engage younger activists and for general mobilization, we put a high priority on social media. In addition to creating our Peace & Planet web page and Facebook page, we initiated a “Fact Countdown”, sending out a compelling fact or quotation that addressed each of our five themes (nuclear weapons abolition, peace, moving the money, environmental sustainability and racial justice/opposing police militarization.) A social media subcommittee, comprised almost entirely of young activists helped to build the mobilization via twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The AFSC also created a remarkably 2 ½ minute video which focused on the role of young people in the nuclear disarmament and other movements which was circulated widely via social media.

4. An International Conference for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World was held at the Cooper Union in New York City, April 24-25, with about 600 participants. Plenary speakers included: Angela Kane, Taniguchi Sumiteru, Setsuko Thurlow (Japanese Hibakusha) Daniel Ellsberg, Prof. Zia Mian, Walden Bello, Jo Comerford Manuel Pino, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou (Ferguson) Yoshiko Kira (Diet member from Japan,) Tony de Brum (Marshall Islands Foreign Minister) Mayor Thore Vesby, Mayors for Peace Vice President, Bill Kidd (Scottish Assembly,) Shin Jin Tae, Reiner Braun, Thomas de Toledo, Michael McPherson, Kyoko Nishikawa and Sofia Wolman. The conference also included 44 workshops, organized by the groups that proposed them, held at the Cooper Union, Pace University, and Hunter College. All plenaries were live streamed and recorded, as were two of the workshops. An evaluation will be conducted, but oral feedback was that the conference was exceptional.

5. Mark C. Johnson took the lead in organizing an International Interfaith Convocation, which was held at the Church Center for the United Nations, with standing room only in the 600 seat chapel. Those who participated have talked about how beautiful, compelling and inspiring the convocation was. Nearly all of the convocation participants later participated in the International rally, march and festival.

6. After overcoming considerable resistance from the NYPD and Parks Dept., involving months of negotiations and with the help of the ACLU an international rally was held at Union Square North on April 26. The Square was completely filled, with estimates running between 7,500 (Co-Conveners) and 10,000 (Gensuikyo) participants. The rally included more than 1,000 Japanese activists, including 80 Hibakusha. Speakers and performers included Tetsu Kitagawa, Leslie Cagan Nakamura Yuko (a Hibakusha,) Manny Pino, MEC Jean Lambert, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry Megacith, Reiner Braun, Judith LeBlanc, Walden Bello, Dan Ellsberg, Thomas de Toledo, Mayor Matsui of Hiroshima, Bikers for Peace Thore Naerland.

An emotional and visual highly of the rally was the launching of the Global Peace Wave Action by Rimma Velikanova of the Basel Peace Office and Karipbek Kuyokov, a second generation Kazakh nuclear weapon test victim.

7. The march from Union Square North to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was led by about eight Hibakusha in wheel chairs, who – along with other Hibakusha – traversed the entire distance. Spirits were high, even as German participants remarked on the heavy police presence which reflected a lack of full democratic rights and freedom.

8. The Festival at Dag Hammarskjold was more impressive than in 2010. We overcame intense opposition from the NY Parks Dept. to hold it. 35 organizations had literature tables. The high point was the presentation of nearly 8 million petition signatures by Gensuikyo, Mayors for Peace and Peace and Planet to High Representative for Disarmament Kane and NPT Review President Ambassador Feroukhi. The presentation was swarmed by media as has been a focal point of media reports about the mobilization. Unlike 2010, great attention was given to arranging Festival musicians and performers, and it carried people’s attention to the end.

9. Under the leadership of Alyn Ware, the Global Peace Wave, launched at the NY rally went westward, by time zone, with more than 100 actions around the world, arriving back at the UN 24 hours later for the opening of the NPT Review Conference. The Global Wave provided organizations and activists in more than 20 countries the opportunity focus movement and media attention on the Review Conference and our demand for the Conference to mandate the commencement of negotiations for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. These events – such as kite flying for Peace & Planet – in the Philippines and the ringing of the bells in the Bethlehem Christmas church provided a means for local organizations to build their movements.

10. A number of Peace & Planet-related organizations arranged for Hibakusha talks in schools and other venues in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and Nevada, as well as in Peace & Planet events. Thousands of high school students were thus reached with lessons about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the human consequences of nuclear weapons, the continuing dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear war, and the imperative of working for a nuclear-free world.

11. Among the other activities feeding in to the Peace and Planet Mobilization were three walks (from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, New England and California,) a Bike for Peace/Mayors for Peace ride from

Washington, DC to New York, and a Shadows and Ashes civil disobedience action at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. organized by the War Resisters League.

11. Media: See attached initial summary of media coverage of the Peace & Planet activities

Our Proposal

The Review Conference has just completed its first week, so its outcome is anything but certain. Given the resistance of the nuclear powers to fulfilling their Article VI obligations and the new era of confrontation and other forces that are fueling new nuclear arms races, the prospects for the Review Conference are less than rosy, and we do not expect our demand that the Review Conference mandate the commencement of the good faith negotiations will be me. It should come as no surprise that our struggle for nuclear weapons abolition (as well as for peace, justice and environmental sustainability) will be for the long term.

In this context we seek A-2000 approval for the creation of a Peace & Planet Campaign. As with this year’s mobilization, it will work to help build an issue-integrated movement to maximize the power of the nuclear weapons abolition, peace, justice and environmental movements. Among the next steps will be:

1) Collecting and posting documentation of the Peace & Planet Mobilization events, including media report, texts of speeches, photos and videos on the Peace & Planet website

2) Conducting an evaluation of the 2015 Peace & Planet Mobilization

3) Launching “Peace & Planet Summer” covering the period from the end of the NPT Review Conference to the 70th anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

4) Organizing a Peace & Planet workshop at the US Social Forum

5) Continuation of the Peace & Planet social media campaign

6) Continued development of relationships across issue areas, including encouraging reciprocity among our movements

7) Convening a strategy consultation with international partners during the World Conference against A- & H- Bombs in Hiroshima or Nagasaki

8) Organizing a strategy development meeting with coordinating and advisory committee members and key allies in the Fall of 2015

9) Implementation of strategy developed in the Fall of 2015

This is a preliminary outline. We welcome additional ideas coming out of today’s meeting and going forward.

Submitted by Joseph Gerson, AFSC, Kevin Martin, Peace Action, and Jackie Cabasso, Western States Legal Foundation.

Do Wars Really Defend America’s Freedom?

December 1, 2014

Not so much, according to Peace Action national board member and SUNY/Albany Professor Emeritus Larry Wittner. See his article on History News Network.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner ( is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, “What’s Going On at UAardvark?

U.S. politicians and pundits are fond of saying that America’s wars have defended America’s freedom. But the historical record doesn’t bear out this contention. In fact, over the past century, U.S. wars have triggered major encroachments upon civil liberties.

Shortly after the United States entered World War I, seven states passed laws abridging freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In June 1917, they were joined by Congress, which passed the Espionage Act. This law granted the federal government the power to censor publications and ban them from the mail, and made the obstruction of the draft or of enlistment in the armed forces punishable by a hefty fine and up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Thereafter, the U.S. government censored newspapers and magazines while conducting prosecutions of the war’s critics, sending over 1,500 to prison with lengthy sentences. This included the prominent labor leader and Socialist Party presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs. Meanwhile, teachers were fired from the public schools and universities, elected state and federal legislators critical of the war were prevented from taking office, and religious pacifists who refused to carry weapons after they were drafted into the armed forces were forcibly clad in uniform, beaten, stabbed with bayonets, dragged by ropes around their necks, tortured, and killed. It was the worst outbreak of government repression in U.S. history, and sparked the formation of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although America’s civil liberties record was much better during World War II, the nation’s participation in that conflict did lead to serious infringements upon American freedoms. Probably the best-known was the federal government’s incarceration of 110,000 people of Japanese heritage in internment camps. Two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens, most of whom had been born (and many of whose parents had been born) in the United States. In 1988, recognizing the blatant unconstitutionality of the wartime internment, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized for the action and paid reparations to the survivors and their families. But the war led to other violations of rights, as well, including the imprisonment of roughly 6,000 conscientious objectors and the confinement of some 12,000 others in Civilian Public Service camps. Congress also passed the Smith Act, which made the advocacy of the overthrow of the government a crime punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment. As this legislation was used to prosecute and imprison members of groups that merely talked abstractly of revolution, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately narrowed its scope considerably.

The civil liberties situation worsened considerably with the advent of the Cold War. In Congress, the House Un-American Activities Committee gathered files on over a million Americans whose loyalty it questioned and held contentious hearings designed to expose alleged subversives. Jumping into the act, Senator Joseph McCarthy began reckless, demagogic accusations of Communism and treason, using his political power and, later, a Senate investigations subcommittee, to defame and intimidate. The president, for his part, established the Attorney General’s List of “subversive” organizations, as well as a federal Loyalty Program, which dismissed thousands of U.S. public servants from their jobs. The compulsory signing of loyalty oaths became standard practice on the federal, state, and local level. By 1952, 30 states required some sort of loyalty oath for teachers. Although this effort to root out “un-Americans” never resulted in the discovery of a single spy or saboteur, it did play havoc with people’s lives and cast a pall of fear over the nation.

When citizen activism bubbled up in the form of protest against the Vietnam War, the federal government responded with a stepped-up program of repression. J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, had been expanding his agency’s power ever since World War I, and swung into action with his COINTELPRO program. Designed to expose, disrupt, and neutralize the new wave of activism by any means necessary, COINTELPRO spread false, derogatory information about dissident leaders and organizations, created conflicts among their leaders and members, and resorted to burglary and violence. It targeted nearly all social change movements, including the peace movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the environmental movement. The FBI’s files bulged with information on millions of Americans it viewed as national enemies or potential enemies, and it placed many of them under surveillance, including writers, teachers, activists, and U.S. senators Convinced that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a dangerous subversive, Hoover made numerous efforts to destroy him, including encouraging him to commit suicide.

Although revelations about the unsavory activities of U.S. intelligence agencies led to curbs on them in the 1970s, subsequent wars encouraged a new surge of police state measures. In 1981, the FBI opened an investigation of individuals and groups opposing President Reagan’s military intervention in Central America. It utilized informers at political meetings, break-ins at churches, members’ homes, and organizational offices, and surveillance of hundreds of peace demonstrations. Among the targeted groups were the National Council of Churches, the United Auto Workers, and the Maryknoll Sisters of the Roman Catholic Church. After the beginning of the Global War on Terror, the remaining checks on U.S. intelligence agencies were swept aside. The Patriot Act provided the government with sweeping power to spy on individuals, in some cases without any suspicion of wrongdoing, while the National Security Agency collected all Americans’ phone and internet communications.

The problem here lies not in some unique flaw of the United States but, rather, in the fact that warfare is not conducive to freedom. Amid the heightened fear and inflamed nationalism that accompany war, governments and many of their citizens regard dissent as akin to treason. In these circumstances, “national security” usually trumps liberty. As the journalist Randolph Bourne remarked during World War I: “War is the health of the state.” Americans who cherish freedom should keep this in mind.

– See more at:

Stop the Wars, Stop the Warming!

September 9, 2014

Richmond, VA GDAMS action

We are at a crossroads, faced with a climate crisis that threatens to end our world as we know it.  We can’t afford the greenhouse gas emissions from the way we live and from war and preparations for war.  We must end the fossil fuel energy economy which war protects.

Join us for the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, September 21! 

The specter of nuclear war still hangs over the world. US policy is the main obstacle to effective global action on climate change, world peace, and nuclear disarmament.  Peace, antiwar and environmental activists must join together for immediate action!

The Peace, Justice and Climate contingent will assemble at 10:00 am for a pre-rally on Central Park West north of Columbus Circle.   Confirmed speakers include Bill McKibben, Tom Hayden, Medea Benjamin, Father John Dear, Margaret Stevens, and Erica Violet-Lee of Idle No More, with music by Emma’s Revolution, Dar Williams, and Holly Near.   The march steps off at 11:30am.

We go to New York to demand that the US government:

•    Stop wars for oil
•    Redirect military spending to fund green jobs and sustainable infrastructure
•    Stop the Keystone pipeline project, fracking and offshore drilling
•    Move to abolish all nuclear weapons as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
•    Stop blocking proposals for effective international action on climate put forward by developing countries

Be sure to check out the Climate Convergence conference on Friday, September 19 and Saturday, September 20 in New York, with keynote speakers including Naomi Klein and many more.

Humbly for peace,


Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

PS: Your tax-deductible contribution to Peace Action Education Fund will support our efforts to build a strong peace presence in the movement to stop climate change.

Gaza-Israel Peace Events in DC this week, starting tonight

July 30, 2014

There is a lot of activity happening here in the nation’s capital calling for an end to the siege of Gaza, here is a summary with links for more information.

Washington Post op-ed by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN, “End the Gaza Blockade to Achieve Peace”

Candlelight vigil for Gaza, tonight at 7 pm at the White House, organized by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Palestine Voices Global FaceBook demonstration, Thursday, 8:00 pm 

Congressional Briefing this Friday, August 1 on Capitol Hill, 2103 Rayburn House Office Building , 2:00 pm , “Is Israel Complying with U.S. and International Laws” sponsored by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and four other organizations. Panelists will include Tariq Abu Khdeir, Palestinian-American teenager from Tampa, Fla. who was brutally beaten by Israeli security forces while restrained and unconscious

Gaza Update with special guest Tariq Abu Khdeir and other speakers, this Friday, August 1 at 7:00 pm, Busboys and Poets 5th and K Sts., NW, Washington, DC

National March on the White House: End the Massacre in Gaza, this Saturday, August 2, 1:00 pm, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, called by ANSWER


April 15 Tax Day: Global Day of Action on Military Spending!

February 20, 2014
VA Organizing at teh Richmond, VA post office on April 15, 2013

VA Organizing at teh Richmond, VA post office on April 15, 2013

By Judith Le Blanc, Peace Action Field Director

The International Peace Bureau’s Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS) is April 15, US Tax Day. Peace Action is convening a cross section of peace and community, faith-based national groups who are supporting local actions across the country on Tax Day. Tax Day will be a day to shine a light on the Pentagon budget and how it drains the resources needed for our communities.

Not only does our government allocate a majority of the discretionary spending every year on the Pentagon at the expense of human needs and diplomacy, it also is one of the world’s biggest arms dealers.

The Tax Day actions are a call for changing national spending priorities, it is also a day of solidarity with all those who suffer from US wars past and present and the presence of over 1,000 bases around the world. The actions will call attention to the domestic impact of continuing to pour money into the Pentagon budget while community services are cut.

The recent Congressional budget deal delayed the next round of ”sequestration” or across the board budget cuts. Federal budget cuts were made but the Pentagon came out the big winner. In fact, the Overseas Contingency Operations account got bumped up while the war in Afghanistan is winding down creating a slush fund to blunt the impact of cuts!

Initial reports are that the Pentagon will announce their budget on February 24 and will include a $26-28 billion dollar “investment fund.” Yet another maneuver to add money to the budget and relieve the pressure to cut the Pentagon budget!

The April 15 Tax Day local actions will focus on Congress. In April, the Congress will be in the midst of working on the federal budget.

We will send a clear message to our Congressional representatives: ”Move the Money” from wars and weapons to human services and convert military industries into civilian use.

We have commitments from 10 Peace Action affiliates to work with their community allies to organize Congressional lobby visits, town hall meetings, and vigils, leafleting, banner drops or other visibility actions. Please post your event here.

Soon a US website will be up with materials, information and organizing tips. Find out more about what is going on around the world at

For more information email:

Good News from KC anti-nuke protesters, and help needed for the Oak Ridge Three

January 6, 2014

One of the things we like to highlight at Peace Action is we use all the tools in the activist toolbox, from congressional lobbying to public education to community organizing to supporting pro-peace candidates for election to nonviolent direct action from time to time.

Below are two items related to inspiring nonviolent civil resistance actions against nuclear weapons from Kansas City (which included many of the leaders of our affiliate, PeaceWorks KC) and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The first is an article from Common Dreams and the National Catholic Reporter on a surprise “sentence” from the judge in the trial of peace activists protesting the new bomb factory in Kansas City. The second is an action alert to the judge in Tennessee urging leniency for the Oak Ridge 3, who trespassed onto the nuclear weapons manufacturing facility there but posed no harm to anyone (as a matter of fact they did us all a favor, even the government!).

Every Time I Learn Something: Judge Gives Anti-Nuclear Activists A Break and Platform

by Abby Zimet

Evolution Happens Dept: An uplifting scene recently in a Kansas City courtroom, where a group of Catholic priests – two over 75 – and activists were being sentenced for a July protestat a National Nuclear Security Administration plant that produces nuclear weapon components. After allowing much rowdy evidence and listening intently to defendants’ impassioned arguments – Question: “Don’t you teach your parishioners to obey the rules?” Answer: “God’s rules….We each have our own conscience to follow” – Judge Ardie Bland, who two years before had sentenced other nuclear activists to jail, announced, “If you’re not getting to anyone else, you’re getting to me,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.Noting the activists’ mention of Rosa Parks and others whose actions changed the world – Bland is black – he found them guilty of trespassing, and sentenced each not to prison, fines or community service but to the writing of a one-page essay in response to a series of ethical and political questions, to be made part of the public record in order to “give you a chance to say what you want to say.” With moving, joyful, Louis-Armstrong flavored video of the July action.
Bland’s questions, as reported by National Catholic Reporter:

1. If North Korea, China or one of the Middle Eastern countries dropped a nuclear bomb on a U.S. city tomorrow, would that change your opinion about nuclear weapons?

2. If Germany or Japan had used nuclear weapons first in World War II, do you think that would have changed your opinion?

3. What would you say to those who say, “If we [the U.S.] do not have the big stick, that is, if we get rid of our nuclear weapons, and other countries develop nuclear weapons, then we do not have the opportunity to fight back”?

4. You defendants say you are Christians and one is a Buddhist. Fr. [Carl] Kabat says that you should disobey ungodly laws. How do you respond to someone who believes there is no God? Who is to say what God believes, for example, when Christians used God to justify slavery and the Crusades?

5. How do you respond to those who have a God different from you when they argue that their religion is to crush others into dust?

6. Who determines what “God’s law” is, given the history of the USA and the world?


Alert from our friends at Roots Action on the Oak Ridge 3:

On January 28, 2014, three nonviolent protesters against nuclear weapons, Sr. Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Gregory Boertje-Obed, are scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tennessee, for the supposed crime of sabotage.

They risked their lives, but threatened no one else, when they entered the free-fire zone of a supposedly top-security nuclear weapons facility called Y-2 in Tennessee. They spray painted messages of peace and exposed the lack of security.

Click here to tell the judge how such courageous activists should be sentenced.

In a separate case in Kansas City, nuclear weapons protesters were recently sentenced to write explanations of their concerns to be included in the court records. That seems far more appropriate than prison for people upholding the law and morality.

Since the 1963 limited test ban treaty, the United States has been committed to “the speediest possible achievement of an agreement on general and complete disarmament.”

The law and morality demand disarmament, but those calling attention to the ongoing evil of nuclear weapons production and maintenance stand convicted and face the risk of 30 years behind bars.

Please sign this petition, which we will deliver to the judge before the sentencing.

Please forward this email widely to like-minded friends.

— The team

P.S. RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Coleen Rowley, Frances Fox Piven, and many others.

P.P.S. This work is only possible with your financial support. Please donate.

Washington Post: The Prophets of Oak Ridge
Daily News: Elderly Nun, 2 Other Protestors Found Guilty of Sabotage
Transform Now Plowshares
National Catholic Register: Trial Ends With Unusual Sentence



Life Stories: Activist Bill Towe, a voice against war and for the poor

November 12, 2013

Our former Peace Action board of directors co-chair, Bill Towe, passed recently. Here is a wonderful remembrance of Bill in the Raleigh News and Observer including quotes from his children, Maria and Chris.


CorrespondentNovember 10, 2013

Bill Towe.


  • William H. Towe

    Born: March 27, 1933

    Family: An only child, Towe marries Betsy-Jean Robertson Towe and they raise two children together, Chris and Maria Towe, who give him two grandchildren. He lives all over the Triangle, as well as in Henderson, before settling in Cary. He is widowed in 2011.

    Education: Undergraduate degree from Davidson College, master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. Spends two years enlisted in the U.S. Army, deployed to Germany, in the late 1950s.

    Career: Leaves a position teaching history in Virginia to work full time for peace causes. His positions over the years include, but are not limited to, senior planner for the Soul City project, research director for the N.C. Voter Registration Project, the Office of Economic Opportunity under Gov. Jim Hunt, and national co-chairman of Peace Action.

    Dies: Oct. 18


Growing up in Wilson, Bill Towe often asked his parents why his nanny did not eat with them.

Though his parents demonstrated that everyone was equal in their rights, in the 1930s South they had a hard time explaining why their housekeeper and cook, an African-American woman, did not join them at the table.

In that instance, the distance kept during meal times had more to do with employment status than skin color, but it left a mark on Towe. As an adult, Towe dedicated his life to eradicating inequalities – and injustices – of any kind.

A key turning point came when Towe rejected the option to take over his father’s successful insurance company in Wilson. Following a brief stint in the military, he later left a career as a history teacher to work full time for nonprofits and state organizations seeking to bring peace where there was strife, justice where there were wrongs.

His career as an activist was often likened to that of a long-distance runner. Friends and family can now say he is finally able to rest after a lifetime of fighting for others. Towe died last month at the age of 80.

Towe’s early career had a slightly different direction – one that went straight up, as he was a tent raiser for the circus. Sometime near the end of high school, Towe, an only child, literally ran away with the circus, his children said. He was certainly running away from an unwanted career in Wilson, where a comfortable life selling insurance was ready for the taking.

“It was always assumed by my grandfather that that’s where my father would work. My dad had other plans,” said his daughter, Maria Towe.

From there he went to Davidson College, then enlisted in the military for two years and was stationed in Germany. Upon his return he earned a master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, and embarked on a teaching career.

He met his wife of 47 years, Betsy-Jean, while teaching in Hampton, Va. They shared the same values from the start. She was the first white teacher to work in a black school, his family said, and it wasn’t long before he resigned from teaching to work for $12 a week (plus gas money) as a civil rights organizer.

Together they helped organize the Virginia Civil Rights Committee. A cross was burned in their front lawn, but rather than react with hatred, they took the stance that Ku Klux Klan members were from “poor and downtrodden” white families, he once wrote.

When they moved to North Carolina, Towe worked on various peace projects, some at the state level, some for nonprofits. No cause was off-limits, though in the end, it was his work combating weapons proliferation that was the most public.

And the most noticeable.

He designed and wore a bright blue spandex suit, of superhero design, donning a gigantic boomerang atop his head under the moniker “Captain Boomerang.”

This getup often made an appearance at the state fair, where, as he manned the N.C. Peace Action booth (he was national co-chairman of this Washington-based nonprofit) he talked about the ways the United States sold weapons to other nations, only to have those same weapons later used against American soldiers. He felt those funds would be much better spent on schools and other peace measures.

But for as overt – and brightly hued – as his political presence might have been in the public, at home he was just the opposite.

“He never really wanted to engage in political discussions. He definitely had his beliefs, but he never got up on his soap box,” said his son, Chris Towe.

Towe met Cyrus B. King, a longtime Raleigh activist, after he moved to the area in the 1980s. In recognizing Towe’s impact to fellow activists years ago, King reminded folks of Towe’s tireless dedication – and financial contributions. Many feel he personally kept Peace Action afloat.

“Anytime there was a peace demonstration like the ones at Fort Bragg on the anniversaries of the war in Iraq, Bill and Betsy-Jean were always present,” King said.

“If you have email and you were foolish enough to give your address to Bill, you have received reminders of events that you should participate in and you have received more action alerts than you can possibly respond to.

“But if you complained, as I sometimes did, you should be reminded that not only was Bill sending out those emails, he was participating in all those demonstrations, going to all those events, writing all those letters that he was asking you to write but he was at the same time keeping N.C. Peace Action alive and making a significant contribution to national Peace Action.”

His message lives on with his friends and family.

“His main thing was that everybody is human. And everybody deserves the same human rights,” Chris Towe said.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 16,051 other followers

%d bloggers like this: